Dutchman Sees American

A Dutch film critic named Robert Nijman has seen Anton Corbin‘s The American, the George Clooney assassin-in-Italy movie that opens next Wednesday, and has posted an IMDB review, having first written it for LiveforFilms.com. I wrote Nijman this morning, and he replied right away. “I saw it last Tuesday in Amsterdam, at a press screening hosted by Benelux Film Distributors,” he said. “I write Dutch movie reviews for movie2movie.nl and occasionally Engish-language reviews also, for my friend Phil over at Liveforfilms.com.”

Nijman’s English is a little rough here and there, requiring a few minor edits, but it’s basically a positive response as far as it goes. He’s saying that The American is a cool little atmospheric art movie in which not a whole lot happens. He almost makes it sound Antonioni-esque. I for one would be delighted with anything along these lines. A faux-Antonioni coffee-table movie, a drifting atmospheric meditation, an upscale wank for cool kidz.

“With his new and intriguing drama The American, [director] Anton Corbijn adapts the style [that he first unveiled with Control] to bring us a film that is attractive and interesting throughout, even though most of the time very little actually happens and the plot laps very quietly.

“The film tells the story about Jack (George Clooney), a mysterious refugee or runaway criminal particularly adept at furnishing and using weapons. There is something that has caused him, sometime, somewhere, to get into trouble, leaving him running for shelter in the periphery of central Italy. Which is all you have to know, because we start following the protagonist — very understatedly but intensely played by Clooney — as the film begins, and are experiencing what he experiences without a lot of exposition.

“As you care less and less about that obscure and unknown beginning (which resulted in the ongoing complications) and become more interested in the end (or the final fate of the protagonist), you realize that this is the type of film that just begins halfway through and doesn’t make excuses to explain what you’ve missed — as in all developments, meetings and stories in everyday life, there is no clear beginning.

“As Jack is approached via his contact by a new customer (Thekla Reuten) who is in need of his services, becomes friends with an Italian priest (Paolo BonaCelli), and rolls haphazardly into a relationship with a local prostitute (Violante Placido), we follow his confluence of circumstances into a new and intriguing direction.

The American is a film that seems to place style over substance, and walks away with it very, very well. The story is not always smart, fascinating or — given the clear influence in genre and style — surprising, but these issues are expertly moved to the background by the special cinematography, and the striking eye of Corbijn. Close-ups of the actors, distance shots that are more about the environment than the cast, beautiful images of the Italian scenery (near L’Aquila, an area that shortly before suffered a natural disaster) and striking visual discoveries shown to us by the director, who appears to tell us something in each focus or movement of his camera.

“Some scenes are more moving pictures and less video, and the viewer — soothed by an immersive soundtrack — is very slowly treated to the details on screen. The expression in Clooney’s face. A butterfly fluttering by. The TV in the background, showing Once Upon A Time In The West by Sergio Leone — a masterful and obvious source of inspiration when it comes to telling by showing. An empty room, and the mood conveyed by the only person within it. Or by the craftsmanship of Anton Corbijn.”

So it doesn’t seem all that bad. Nijman seems to be saying it’s sorta kinda “good” on its own terms. Not an Eloi flick, obviously, but perhaps satisfying enough for cineaste types like Glenn Kenny and Scott Foundas and Jonathan Rosenbaum, etc. But what will Armond White say?

Over here there has been, of course, no buzz and no early screenings…nothing. No Clooney interviews, no press events, no Corbijn interviews with NYC or LA writers…zip. The first accessible Manhattan press screening happens on Monday evening, and, it’s fair to say, at a moderately dumpy theatre — the AMC 19th Street. (It’s also showing the same night in Los Angeles at the Harmony Gold screening room.) L.A. Times feature writer John Horn has seen it, I’m told. Other long-lead types may have had a looksee, but none I’ve heard about or spoken to.

Focus Features, the distributor, is selling it as a thriller (i.e., that poster image of Clooney running with a gun) on the gamble that they’ll get a bigger first-weekend gross that way. Then why open it on a Wednesday, which will allow the word-of-mouth to fly around for two days before the weekend begins? I can just see the Twitter messages now: “Oh, my God, it’s…it’s…it’s an art movie! It’s beautiful to look at. A moody atmosphere thing that shows rather than tells…aaaagggh!”

34 thoughts on “Dutchman Sees American

  1. No wonder they’re showing the quick cut “George Clooney is…THE AMERICAN.” trailer in the multiplexes.

  2. Does Clooney even do press anymore? When was the last time he did a TV interview?

    I just read this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times and saw a full page story on the movie written by John Horn

  3. the type of film that just begins halfway through and doesn’t make excuses to explain what you’ve missed

    In medias res is how most effective and intriguing stories “begin”.

  4. Isn’t this the same reason why people bitched about “Inception”?

    It’s quite pretty to look at, but dammit, where’s the substance?!

  5. Clooney will only do massive press for the Payne flick. I am surprised though that they aren’t showing this movie to the critics. Either the studio doesn’t believe in it or critics matter even less than ever!

  6. People bitched about Inception because they didn’t stop to consider perhaps the entire film could actually be a fever dream by a subject (who in reality only wishes he looked anything like Dicaprio’s Cobb) who had just lost his wife/girlfriend (either to death or to another man) and had a predilection for reading cheap, pulpy spy novels, watching old B-movie actioners, and took a few too many entry-level psych classes on his way to a liberal arts degree.

    Taken on this level, the movie is an absolute stone-cold masterpiece, and easily one of the best of the year.

    On-topic, really looking forward to The American. If we can take this review at face value, this is exactly the kind of piece we don’t see playing nearly often enough in mainstream American cinemas these days.

    Kudos to Clooney for his string of largely non-commerical gambits over the past 5 years or so. While I haven’t necessarily loved all of them as individual films, I’ve certainly admired the aesthetics, ambitions, and singular offbeat-ness of the projects.

  7. Citizen, you just provided more back story for “Inception” than was even hinted at in the entire two hour and forty minute running time of the film.

    I’ll agree with you on the kudos to Clooney. The diversity of the films and his versatility as an actor often, I’d say, go unappreciated. I’m excited to see this once it’s released.

  8. That’s right folks; when I or Scott Foundas dig a film, it’s cuz it’s an “upscale wank for cool kidz.” And when Jeff likes a movie, it’s church.

    I wonder when Jeff’s gonna get over his cool kidz complex, because honest to God, people, it’s got nothing to do with the way I…or Scott, or Rosenbaum, for that matter…look at things. I also wonder when my life is gonna be as upscale as my preferred wanks. Maybe I can bring this all up with Jeff when we see the movie Monday…

  9. But how does it compare to Golgo 13? Anyway, all kidding aside, I’m more interested in this film than Machete. Not sure if The American’s going wide that weekend, too, but it’d be interesting to see which one would be on top.

    Kane: No, I just bitched about Inception because it was a bloated FPS remake of Paprika.

  10. Sorry, I don’t respond to people that have been publicly banned from this site (least of all ones that insist that everything artistic and/or creative comes from a 150-mile radius of downtown Tokyo).

  11. Wow, DZ is so pathetic that everybody on the entire site said they wanted him to leave, the host banned him, and he came back immediately and did the exact same schtick under a different name, thinking that nobody would spot it.

    It’s amazing, just when you think a person can’t get more pathetic than the letter than Jeff wrote when he banned him…

  12. “The first accessible Manhattan press screening happens on Monday evening, and, it’s fair to say, at a moderately dumpy theatre — the AMC 19th Street.”

    Jeff – don’t you still regularly go to the Union Square theater? You can’t bag on any theatre in New York, even the one with bedbugs, and go to the Union Square theater.

    the 19th street is a perfectly nice theater. You just wouldn’t know it because they never have good movies so there’s never any reason to go there. If you’re going there, it’s enough effort that you might as well go to one of the few better theaters.

  13. I must admit I wasn’t that interested in seeing The American until Rob sent me the review.

    Certainly sounds a bit more interesting that the trailers have been marketing it.

    I do find it a bit odd that the studios are being so quiet about the whole thing though.

  14. Given Wells’s obsession about how actors look, how come nobody’s noted that Clooney looks really fucking good in this?

    No fat-and-happy-on-his-ass actor for him. He looks like a shark in the promos for this thing.

    Not. Fucking. Fair.

    (Sorry, pardon the LexG jealousy moment… but I *hate* getting older).

  15. If only Clooney had the kind of emotional range that Mel Gibson does, he’d be perfect. The furthest he’s ever gotten out of his comfort zone was in The Perfect Storm.

  16. I love Mel Gibson, esp. the super-crazy, post-ranting version of him, but does he really have emotional range? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a performance by him that I would classify as emotionally settled, or even 100% mentally stable.

  17. Oh come on, he does crying/breakdown scenes as well as anyone, especially in his later career. The scene in The Patriot when Ledger dies in his arms, amazing. Or Signs and We Were Soldiers, a lot of great moments.

    I mentioned Gibson primarily because Clooney has always reminded me of him because of the similar voice and wisecracking demeanor.

  18. “Oh come on, he does crying/breakdown scenes as well as anyone, especially in his later career.”

    If we’re busting out under-rated action actors who do crying/breakdown scenes well, Stallone can cry the pants off of Gibson. so to speak.

    It’s pretty much the only acting Stallone can do, but his breakdown (for instance) at the end of ‘First Blood’ is kind of shocking to see if you grew up on the indestructible unemotional Stallone of the late ’80′s and early ’90′s.

  19. I’m still terrified this is going to be in the vein of Limits of Control, one of the worst viewing experiences I’ve ever had.

  20. Fair enough, r&f. I certainly agree that he’s as capable of turning it up a notch and giving a believable breakdown on film as any male actor. It’s just the quieter scenes of his that I often have more trouble with (and incidentally, Clooney generally nails those).

    Cheers, JA. That’s pretty much always my intention. Too bad I usually end up failing miserably. I did genuinely ADORE Inception, though. Keed because I love.

  21. Oh I definitely agree about Clooney’s talent in quiet moments, and his ability to act with his eyes, like in the last shot of Michael Clayton, not to mention his comedy talents, It’s a special touch, and that’s why he’s a star. I guess I’m waiting for something from him that’s analogous to say, Michael Douglas’ turn in Falling Down.

  22. I like him too, but I don’t think he’s ever really done anything analogous to ‘Romancing the Stone’ Michael Douglas, let alone “Falling Down’ (or, also, ‘One Night At McCool’s').

  23. Love Corbijn. Love Clooney. No interest in seeing this at all. Same with “Fair Game,” for that matter, but more so: great actors, good (but mostly smart) director, but a drawn from the headlines story where the ink is barely dry on real life events.

  24. MoniqueV, I realize that. I was just expounding (awkwardly) on why I want to see “Fair Game” even less than “The American.” Both feature great actors in capable hands, but “Fair Game” is further hampered by its nature.

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